Young talented Nikita
Actuary, exercise buff and mentor
Name: Nikita Gibson
Age: 27 years old
Education: Harrison College;
University of the West Indies, Cave Hill;
Heriot Watt University (Edinburgh, Scotland).
Qualifications: BSc, mathematics and economics (first class honours); MSc, actuarial science; and Associate Of The Society Of Actuaries (ASA).
Who is Nikita Gibson?
Nikita is a complicated person; but I believe these words describe me and my character –– ambitious, honourable, trustworthy, honest, loving, caring and respectable. I am not perfect, far from actually; I believe in acknowledging my shortcomings and imperfections, although sometimes this is a challenge. But when I have, I have become a better person for it and it also allows me not to make the same mistake twice.
I believe the hardest part of being human is realizing and accepting our imperfections.
Do you have a philosophy you live by, and what do you see as your purpose in life?
My philosophy is never to give up! As simple as that may sound, it takes great effort daily to never give up on my dreams. I live by the quote Mary Anne Radmacher: “Courage doesn’t always roar; sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”
This quote reminds me that although I may have a bad day, or things may not go my way, it doesn’t mean I should give up. And sometimes our dreams were simply not destined to occur today; but tomorrow is a new day to try again.
I believe my purpose in life is to bring even a small bit of happiness to the people around me. I love to see my friends and family happy and thriving, and if there is something I can do to help them reach their goals, I am game!
What are you passionate about?
I am passionate about my career, completing my actuarial designation and acquiring the status of a Fellow Of The Society Of Actuaries (FSA). Outside of my career, I am passionate about fitness, shopping (especially for shoes), family, travelling and children. My godchildren are the greatest kids in the world!
I am passionate about helping people, and this is one area in my life which I am currently in the process of adjusting, being active in charities and organizations geared towards helping those who are in some form of need.
Why did you decide to go straight to university after completing fifth form and not attend the Barbados Community College –– or sixth form?
For me, this decision was based on a few factors: my chosen field required years of self-study after achieving a degree; my drive to be successful at a young age; and I was always the kid on the block who wanted to do everything before my time –– a blessing and a curse. I had no idea I would make the cut for UWI.
I attended BCC’s orientation and was accepted. However, I knew this was not where my heart lay, and gratefully my luck turned around on that same day. I received a call from UWI confirming that I had been accepted.
When you left secondary school and entered UWI, Cave Hill, you were only 16 years old. What was the transition like, given that you didn’t do either sixth form or BCC?
The transition was overwhelming, frightening, exciting and daunting all rolled into one package. The change of pace where I am in control of every aspect of my education and day-to-day activities was exciting in the beginning, but the realization that I controlled my destiny at that point was daunting.
I have no regrets attending university after fifth form, but I do remember some of my failures in the beginning, and I eventually realized that with freedom comes great responsibility.
Having met you at UWI, I quickly learnt that you were very smart and intelligent. Why pursue mathematics and economics? Why not accounts, management, or even psychology or law?
Thank you, Mr Worrell!
I have always found reading to be challenging, although I spend quite a bit of my downtime enjoying a good romance novel. I have never been an avid heavy reader. My love and passion have always been numbers. There was therefore no other choice for me.
Having never been exposed to economics, I was intrigued after sitting in one of the first year courses and it was a great option to double major with mathematics. I believe that everyone has a calling, so to speak; and mine was mathematics.
Receiving first class honours isn’t an easy feat. How were you able to remain focused and not be distracted by all the challenges that come with being a teenager?
My first year was very challenging and filled with distractions, not having to go to class if I didn’t wish to or even choosing to enjoy on-campus activities instead of studying. This caused me to fail my first year at UWI, and I remember saying to myself: “Nikita, this was not in the plan. Get your act together!”.
Anyone who knows me knows I always have a plan. Although things may not always go my way and I may become frustrated, I never give up. I was able to settle down after my first year after doing some much needed soul-searching, and I was able to achieve first class honours in two years.
UWI requires persons entering the university without CAPE or an Associate degree to complete a year of preliminary courses, plus the three years mandated for an undergraduate. I was fortunate enough to complete the four-year programme in three years.
The hardest part of a dream is doing it. You can fail at any time; you can fall; but you can also get up and keep persevering.
If you were a shoe, what kind would you be, and why?
This is the most challenging question! Being a shopaholic and more so a shoeaholic, there is no one great shoe; but for now I will go with the Tory Burch Glenna Pump (black) because it is a versatile shoe which can be worn for any occasion –– a shoe that can set you apart, but at the same time, be demure when the need be.
I like the idea of being exactly what people see on the outside with a bit of something unseen on the inside. The ability to blend into all environments and spaces is an art form, and every great shoe should have it and still manage to be unique.
Earth, wind, fire or water. If you had a choice, which one would you be, and why?
I would be water because water is a major constituent in the fluids in most living organisms and a great force to reckon with. Given time, water can penetrate almost anything and this is how I like to see myself as being able to eventually reach my goal and the end point while breaking down any barriers.
Favourite book, movie, TV show and song?
Favourite book might be a hard pick, but I have four favourite romance novelists –– Brenda Jackson, Ruth Cardello, Melody Anne and Kathleen Brooks.
Favourite movie –– The Lion King.
Favourite TV show –– so many choices, but I will have to say it is a tossup between Big Bang Theory and Scandal.
Favourite song –– Team by Lorde.
Why did you choose Scotland to pursue your Master’s in actuarial science?
I spoke with a former Harrisonian who attending Heriot Watt (HW) to pursue actuarial science and his reviews of the experience encouraged me to look into the university. The final selling point for me was the fact that Heriot Watt was also a research university. The impact of this was phenomenal. Let me give an example.
One day, in the middle of a financial mathematics class, the lecturer announced a special guest lecturer to teach the new topic The Wilkie Model. This may not seem exciting by name alone, but Professor David Wilkie himself taught the class on his updated model.
This was one of the best days at HW –– being taught by the very person who developed a model, or a theorem, or a philosophy! I am sure most students would love the opportunity to learn directly from the master.
There may be many people reading who do not know what an actuary does. Can you enlighten them?
The Society of Actuaries’ definition of an actuary is a business professional who measures and manages the financial implications of future events. This may yet be a little vague, but the role of actuary is not one definition or job description. Actuaries are a group of versatile individuals working in areas such as but not limited to life insurance, health insurance, investment, risk management and pensions.
What was the transition and experience like living and studying in Britain?
The initial shock was due to the weather. It was cold, damp and mostly grey skies; but it was quite an experience overall. In my class there were people from Ghana, Nigeria, India, Arabia, Mauritania, United States, Cameroon, China, Singapore, Ireland, just to name a few. It was a diverse class with persons from across the globe and varying backgrounds.
What made this a greater experience was the age gap between my classmates and me. I was 20 and the majority of my classmates in their 30s or late 20s. To this day I am still great friends with persons I met during this time.
Living and studying abroad are things everyone should experience; the level of exposure and personal growth achieved is astounding.
Having worked as an actuary over the past five years, what areas in the field have you had experience in?
My experience has been primarily in the life insurance arena, while working in various aspects such as amalgamations of business(es), valuations, risk management areas, capital and performance product management, statutory filings, just to name a few. I have also worked with products targeted to the Caribbean market; but, more recently, I have been working with life insurance products targeted to United States and Canadian citizens, the latter requiring a new skill set, which includes items such as regulatory compliance for the United States and Canada.
This has added to my skill set and diversified my life insurance experience to the extent that now I am more equipped to work in a market such as America or Canada. My work is not limited to life insurance companies, as I also provide some select services to captive insurance companies, which cover the side of actuarial science that may be considered non-traditional.
Do you plan to specialize in a particular area, and if yes, why?
Yes, my intentions are to become a chartered enterprise risk analyst (CERA) and to specialize in life insurance and qualify as a Fellow Of The Society Of Actuaries (FSA). Specializing in life insurance was an easy selection since most/all of my experience is within this area. Becoming a CERA is also one of my dreams, mostly because I have never been able to accept anything as “just because”.
I like to know exactly why, exactly how everything happens, and I believe this qualification would allow me a deeper look into why some environments and factors influence life insurance and companies on a whole, and hopefully aid in making more sound business decisions by better assessing the risks a company faces.
In December you were accepted into a distinguished society. Tell us about that.
Last month the Society Of Actuaries confirmed that I had completed all the requirements to be awarded the Associateship designation. I was awarded the Associate Of The Society Of Actuaries (ASA), which is received upon completion of ten actuarial exams. This was the first stepping stone to achieving my FSA and a great feeling of accomplishment; and this now allows me to focus on a speciality track.
What would you say has been one of your greatest accomplishments thus far?
One of my greatest accomplishments is completing my Master’s by the age of 20/21, having graduated from UWI in 2007 and Heriot Watt in 2008. I have been able to focus on my career at a younger age than most, and this has helped in my development within my field.
Share with us your contribution to the Rotaract Club at UWI.
I was the founding president of the Rotaract Club at UWI, and to this day some of the initiatives my team and I put in place in 2006-2007 are still active within the club –– such as the CEO Forum which provided members and non-members the opportunity to interact with business professionals within our community in their chosen of fields of interest within a forum platform. This type of initiative allowed some students to even acquire internships and to learn directly from their professional role models.
As a part of the club, we also adopted the St George Primary School where UWI students became mentors to students and also big brother/big sister programmes for students who needed the guidance of a mature individual. This was the best part of the club initiatives as we would travel to the school on Fridays and help the children with their weekend homework and interact with them on their dreams and aspirations.
What’s next for Nikita?
On the personal side of things, the next step for me is to become actively involved within the community as much as I can. I am currently interested in joining the Soroptimist Club, especially their projects geared towards children, particularly young girls and women.
I was previously a mentor for UWI students interested in actuarial science; this is another initiative I would very much like to be involved in again. I think now I have more to offer in terms of advice and life experiences within the field. I am still growing professionally and I still have some ways to go; but I do believe I am in a better position now than three or four years ago when I was first apart of the programme.
I was able to take a peek at your Facebook page and saw that you are very involved in fitness. Did I see you hanging from a ceiling by what looked like a sheet?
Yes, I am very involved with fitness –– traditional and non-traditional. I enjoy going to the gym four days a week with personal training programmes from Apollo Fitness with Corey Springer, learning pole fitness at Move 2 More with Chiara Citro, and learning aerial silks with Barbados Aerial Silks Performers with Hope Armstrong. The gym is a great way to unwind after a long day in the office and also to keep healthy. I have a fond love for the arts and any fitness activities that allow me to incorporate my love for arts and dancing.
Along with the various fitness activities, I try to maintain healthy eating habits. I may not always win this fight, but over an extended period of time I try to ensure I balance my good/healthy foods with the foods I love. Healthy living is a challenge, but, like any of life goals, it is worth the battle!
Being a young successful Barbadian woman, what advice would you give young female teenagers?
We live in a world where women are sometimes seen as inferior to men. I would like women and men alike to know that no one sex is superior to the other, but we as individuals are unique and each has his or her contribution to make to the world.
As women, especially young women, we have to fight to show we are just as good and we can do the job. One of the issues I have faced in my professional career is being judged by my age and not my qualifications or skill set. But never be discouraged because once you have a dream and the will to achieve it, anything is possible!
Although the question has asked me to speak directly to young women, I would like to say to young people: your strength is yours to build and accomplish and cannot be defined or measured by anyone but yourselves.
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